Honda e: Five star cool for an absolute classic

Honda e — one of the coolest, most magnetic and charming of the electric car genre, a remarkable feat of engineering and design.
Honda e: Five star cool for an absolute classic

Honda e

Honda e

Rating

★★★★★

Price

From €29,995 - €32,995 in Advance trim 

Engine

Electric

The Spec

As funky as a room of funksters

Verdict

An electric classic

As we here at Examiner Motoring are currently in the middle of a rigorous examination of the dos and don’ts of electric motoring, it is entirely appropriate this week that we drive one of the coolest, most magnetic and charming of the genre.

That this diminutive beast is also a pretty remarkable feat of engineering and design and – an absolute must for petrolhead renegades – a thorough joy to drive, only adds to the growing suspicion among Doubting Thomas’s, like myself, that the motor industry is finally getting to grips with technologies it should have mastered years ago.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Honda e.

As a bit of background, however, it is important to point out that while Honda was actually an innovator when it came to hybrids – yet remarkably it allowed any advantage it had slip through its’ grasp giving Toyota a largely free run at the segment – the company was mysteriously slack when it came to electrics.

Honda foolishly flip-flapped on the whole electric car schtick and as a result has been pretty late to the party. That said, when it introduced the innovative Urban EV concept at the Frankfurt Show in 2017, few believed such a dinky idea would make it into production.

Futuristic interior of the Honda e
Futuristic interior of the Honda e

However, when the company rocked up to the 2019 version of the same show with the Honda e, it was immediately clear attitudes had hardened within the HQ in the Minato district of Tokyo and electrification was now an essential element of the future.

Drawing heavily on Honda’s back catalogue designs – particularly the N360 and N600 two-box, four seat cars of the late ‘60’s an early ‘70’s and the first generation Civic, first seen in 1973 – the Honda E immediately stood out from the pack for its’ cutesy retro chic.

But it not just the adorable look of this car that whacks you over the head. Click the fob to open the car and once you’ve negotiated the pop-out door handles, you enter an ingenious minimalist world which is not only state-of-the-art but ground-breaking (at least for a production car) as well.

The ‘e’ eschews wing mirrors, adopting instead two torpedo-shaped camera pods instead, the pictures from which are relayed to two screens at either end of the dash and these are, in effect, your primary rear-view mechanisms. But these are not the only screens on offer here.

Aside from the (relatively) conventional instrument cluster, which is digital and quite fangled, the rest is quite radical. Aside from the ‘mirrors’ there are then two 12.3” LCD displays which contain the infotainment and connectivity functions and the effect is to make the interior feel like an old widescreen ‘Cinerama’ effect in the cinema or the more recent IMAX or ScreenX systems.

The layout is aimed at providing a ‘lounge’ feel to the interior of the Honda E and it is remarkably effective in doing so. Surrounded by a wood fascia and centre console where the ‘drive’ functions are stored (buttons for Park, Drive, Reverse and so forth) the whole interior is modern, unfussed, easy to live with and really funky as well.

Sometimes funky is as funky does and the results are rubbish. But not in this case, because if you tire of all the normal radio/phone/navigation information you’re being bombarded with, you can simply revert of an ‘aquarium’ setting which sees cartoon fish swimming around or you can have relaxing pictures of red Japanese maples on-screen instead. It’s terribly cool, altogether.

In terms of interior space, there is enough room for four adults (the back doors also have pop-out handles) and the seating is comfortable and supportive. You do have to remember, though, that this is an ‘urban’ car, so long distance comfort was never part of the agenda here.

And that brings us neatly on to the performance of this car and the things that will be major selling points, as well as those that will be off-putting for many drivers.

Unlike many of the new breed of electrics which have a workable range in a non-urban environment – such as the Stellantis twins, the Peugeot 208 and the Opel Corsa – the Honda E is marketed by the company as being its’ “first all-electric urban car.” 

So it is really only for city use and while it does have a reasonable working range of 135km, it is not something for the Malin to Mizen run. That said and taking the ‘urban’ abilities as a given, I decided to stretch the car’s legs and take it home to west Cork.

Facing a journey of roughly 120km, it was obviously going to be something of an ask to make it, especially if, as so many electrics do, the car was prone to suffer from manufacturer exaggeration about its’ capabilities. But no, this thing did pretty much what was claimed of it and I reached my destination with four klicks left in the tank.

Honda e
Honda e

It was quickly evident that what Honda has done here is quite special. Copping on to the realization that a light touch approach to the whole driving experience would prove highly effective, I managed the return journey with 35km left to play with.

Part of the reason for this is that the regenerative capability of the Honda system is such that you can make it work very positively. If you can keep the power indicator as evenly balanced as possible between ‘power’ and ‘charging’ you’ll see a situation where your total battery percentage might fall quickly, you can still keep kilometres of range in the bank.

It might be a little tricky – not to mention very demanding of concentration – to get this to work for you, but when you get the knack of it, the system is genuinely impressive. And if you’re really desperate you can always switch everything (heating, radio, lights etc.) off to scrape up further range.

For what it’s worth, the power source will provide 152 bhp (in the Advance trim we tested), has a 0-100 kph capability of eight seconds dead and a top speed of 160 kph, figures which are very comparable with most electrics and which will find the car getting a thumbs-up in most quarters.

On the road – with a four-corner MacPherson strut arrangement – the ‘e’ rides really well and handles like a car with a wheel at each corner, a 50:50 weight distribution and rear wheel drive should do – i.e. really well. It also has a turning circle of 4.6 metres which is quite ridiculous and in the realm of a London taxi, the ultimate benchmark in such matters.

It might be that at over thirty grand for the Advance spec model we tested, is a bit steep for many nascent electric buyers, or even that the 135km range is not good enough, but the fact of the matter is that this car does exactly what the manufacturer says it will and, probably a bit more as well.

Evidence of the coolness of the exterior look was underlined by the interest shown by a gang of workmen outside my abode who were completely taken by the car but could not collectively work out where the indicators were. The guys were astounded when they turned out to be built into an outer ring of the actual headlights. “Deadly, boy,” they chorused.

With some of the most delightful design touches you’ve ever seen and some of the most innovative technologies you’ve never seen, this a truly special machine.

It is something which will stand the test of time and is, in fact, hugely important as an indicator of what electric cars could and should be. On that basis, it is the deserving recipient of an exceedingly rare Examiner Motoring five-star rating.

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